Horseshoe Bend Page AZ: Pros & Cons of Hiking & Photography at Sunset

by Mark & Kristen Morgan
Beautiful Horseshoe Bend rock formation as Colorado River curves through the canyon below with reflective water surface Arizona sunset hike and photography

Horseshoe Bend is an extraordinarily striking 270 degree U-shaped meander in the mighty Colorado River, close to the small town of Page, Arizona. 

When forging a path through super-strong Navajo sandstone, the Southwest flowing Colorado River hit a dead end. But water is relentless. If I can’t go straight ahead I will break through whichever side is weakest!

The result of erosion and time is a unique postcard-perfect horseshoe shaped canyon with a 1,000 ft high viewing terrace and spectacular sunset to boot.

We are going to explain exactly what you can expect when visiting Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona, from parking and fees to the short sandy hike and sunset photography tips.

Utah Road Trip: Page AZ is perfectly positioned to be included as part of an epic Utah (and Northern Arizona) road trip. See how you can visit the big Utah parks easily with Horseshoe Bend with these 9 Amazing Utah Road Trips!

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Geological Feature: Horseshoe Bend
Known As: East Rim of the Grand Canyon

Nearest Town: Page
State: Arizona

Address: Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Page, AZ 86046

Things to do: Hiking, Sunset, Photography
Waterway: Colorado River

Open: All year
Annual visitors: ~ 2 million

Directions to Page AZ and Horseshoe Bend

Stunning Colorado River bursting through canyons in Page Glen Canyon

Horseshoe Bend parking lot is located 5 miles Southwest of Page, AZ. Set your GPS for Horseshoe Bend overlook off US-89.

Page is the by far the most convenient place to stay for a night thanks to plenty of accommodation and restaurant options for visitors.

Distances and drive times from nearby cities and landmarks include:

  • Grand Canyon South Rim – Via AZ 64 Desert View Drive = 132 miles (2h 20m) OR
  • Flagstaff and Williams (when Desert View Drive is closed) = 215 miles (3h 30m)
  • Zion National Park – 115 miles (2h 20m)
  • Bryce Canyon National Park – 150 miles (2h 40m)
  • Monument Valley – 120 miles (1h 55m)
  • Moab – 275 miles (4h 20m)
  • Las Vegas – 270 miles (4h 30m)
  • Phoenix – 275 miles (4h 15m)

If you’re flying into the region for a Utah and Arizona road trip, the closest airports for you to consider are as follows:

  • Las Vegas McCarran – 283 miles (4h 37m)
  • Flagstaff Pulliam (Only from Denver, Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth) – 134 miles (2h 12m)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor – 277 miles (4h 15m)

Parking and Entrance Fee at Horseshoe Bend

Awesome reflection on Colorado River with speedboat at Horseshoe Bend AZ

Parking at Horseshoe Bend was once a case of pulling over on the shoulder of 89.

Since Instagram made Horseshoe Bend one of the most sought after selfie spots in the US, a brand new parking lot featuring restrooms and pay station were introduced to handle the unprecedented spike in tourism.

Entrance to Horseshoe Bend parking lot is currently US$ 10.

Is it worth the 10 bucks? Yes, we think so.

The lot is huge with plenty of spaces to accommodate tourists. However, it still fills during peak season on weekends and holidays.

Sunset is the most popular time of day, which means you should aim to arrive a few hours before the sunset rush to guarantee a spot. If the lot is full you will be asked to leave and come back later.

Utah Mighty 5: Are you planning to visit any of Utah’s National Parks before or after Horseshoe Bend? Click on any of our awesome travel guides to Zion & Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef to help plan your desert adventure!

Walk the Short, Easy & Sandy Hike to Horseshoe Bend

Walking along sandy trail from parking lot to Horseshoe Bend overlook in late afternoon with clear blue sky

You’ll be glad to hear the hike from Horseshoe Bend parking lot to the overlook is short, easy and almost completely flat.

Right at the parking lot you will need to climb a reasonably steep path but it doesn’t last long. Once you’re on top of the rim, it’s a gradual descent until you reach the awesome curving Colorado River.

It is impossible to get lost, simply follow the crowds and you will know where the overlook is once you see an army of tourists!

Due to the expansion of facilities and inflated tourism leading to increased prices, the NPS (who manage the site – even though it is on Navajo Nation territory) are working on a more accessibility friendly path.

What was once effectively a sand dune is now solid and compact, which means there’s a better chance you won’t arrive at the viewpoint with half a beach inside your shoes.

Horseshoe Bend, AZ Trail Distance: 1.5 miles roundtrip
Horseshoe Bend, AZ Trail Difficulty: Nice and easy

What Can You Expect From Sunset At Horseshoe Bend?

Kristen at Horseshoe Bend in November with jacket even after hike and in sunshine Arizona

In a nutshell: a hive of activity and all of the selfie sticks ever manufactured … but a wonderful sunset.

When visiting any new place, it’s too easy to let a few negatives impact your overall opinion. We can confidently say the negatives at Horseshoe Bend did not outweigh its beauty and highly recommend you visit.

Let’s dig deeper and start with the positives.

Spectacular curved Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Positives

  • Horseshoe Bend truly is a staggeringly attractive geological feature and you will no doubt be mightily impressed by the scale of this U bend cutting through the canyon.
  • As we mentioned, the hike is very short and easy, which saves the whole ‘wow, we’ve walked countless hours and miles for this!’ scenario in the very unlikely circumstance you are underwhelmed.
  • A fence has been constructed to protect younger kids from falling (there have been 7 deaths here).
  • From Horseshoe Bend overlook, you are looking directly West at the bend itself. That means a beautiful orange and yellow sunset is straight ahead of you, over Horseshoe Bend and a flat table-top expanse of rock as far the horizon. Don’t forget to cheer with everyone as the sun finally disappears!
  • The main reason you’re visiting is to enjoy the view and they don’t come much more uniquely stunning than this powerful act of nature.
  • If you can, stay later once the sun has set and people have thinned out for a brilliant Milky Way display!
Arizona Colorado River rock formations U bend

Negatives

However, we feel compelled not to give a fairytale and rainbows story but to be brutally honest, that way you can manage expectations.

So let’s take a look at what we personally thought were negatives.

  • Horseshoe Bend has become incredibly popular and particularly at sunset. Ok, so what’s the problem? The overlook is a very small area which quickly fills and means people are forced to fan out onto nearby boulders on either side where there are no barriers and people are vying for position to get unobstructed views.
  • At least when we visited, there were more than a few heart in mouth moments watching people trying to get the best / most idiotic selfie. Sitting on cliff edges and sliding down, balancing on one leg right on the edge or jumping between boulders with drops below for example. No, we don’t want to witness the eighth death, thank you!
  • Watching the sunset is supposed to be relaxing, right? Well the sheer volume of bodies, noise and jostling for position made it difficult to totally unwind.
  • Sunset and the hours leading up to it are not the best times to photograph Horseshoe Bend, you will have to wait until the sun has disappeared.

Horseshoe Bend, AZ Sunset Photography

Our Sony a6000 on a tripod taking photographs at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

You’ve probably seen amazing photos of Horseshoe Bend plastered all over the internet. Well, it’s not quite as simple as you might imagine to capture those images.

Ideally, you want to take the photograph from dead center to get beautiful symmetry in your frame.

The overlook safety barrier is definitely required for protection, but it makes framing Horseshoe Bend difficult because that is dead center.

You’ll need to get creative unless you have a tripod with center column reaching way over your head to angle down and an ultra wide angle lens.

Golden hour before sunset is the worst time to photograph Horseshoe Bend. The sun is slightly left of center in your frame, causing a ton of angled lens flare / green dots.

However, you have a good 30-40 minutes of prime time Horseshoe Bend photography once the sun has disappeared.

Move to either side of the viewing platform barrier for a better angle but be careful!

Between 11am-1pm is arguably the best time of day for photography at Horseshoe Bend. Midday gives you a chance of clouds and plenty of light to hand hold with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon will cast deep, dark shadows in the canyon. Avoid those times at all costs!

Beginner Photography Tips

Photography tips at Horseshoe Bend Arizona after short hike vertical images pano

At the time we visited Horseshoe Bend, we had an entry level Sony a-6000 and Sigma 16mm f1.4 (24mm for crop). Our old travel tripod was flimsy and didn’t extend past the top of the overlook barrier.

24mm was not wide enough to capture the whole scene in one frame. As you can see in the photo above, Horseshoe Bend isn’t far back from the overlook!

If you have a 12-24mm lens or fish-eye you’ll have no trouble framing the full bend with rock to each side, the bottom included and even some sky.

If you don’t have an ultra-wide lens, you’ll likely need to create a stitch and merge them together in LR in post editing.

You will need a tripod in such low light and the angle has to be perfect so improvising with clothes or a bag are unlikely to work.

  • Wait for the sun to disappear completely (which we didn’t in the image above!)
  • Turn camera vertical and imagine dividing the landscape into 3 vertical shots
  • Begin on your left, move to the center and overlap with your first image, move to the right and overlap with center shot
  • Keep the same settings and horizontal plane (ie try not to move the entire tripod, just gently pan the head)
  • In LR, highlight the 3 images, right click, select Photo Merge and Panorama. That’s it!

Stargazing

Milky Way bursting out of clouds and sunset

You’ll be amazed at how quickly hundreds of people fizzle out to a hand full once the sun turns in for the night. But now is not the time to leave!

This is the time to finally relax, pull out your hot chocolate and extra hoodie, wait for the Milky Way to dazzle and fire the camera back up.

We visited in November which meant the Milky Way was shimmering as early as 8pm, although it was cloudy on the horizon and sunlight hadn’t completely diminished. We would have stayed later but it was getting very cold!

The town of Page only emits a little light so the sky isn’t polluted, plus the sand dune you walk over blocks a lot of the light anyway.

Admittedly, it is difficult to get any sort of foreground in an astro image at Horseshoe Bend. The barrier is all you can use!

Remember head torches if you do stay for stars, the walk back to your car is unlit.

Amazing National Parks: Where will you visit after Arizona? Our awesome guides to Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks are unmissable!

Best Time to Visit Horseshoe Bend, AZ

Sunset with bright sun making photography very difficult

Best time of Year –  Spring and Fall are the most comfortable times to visit. Winter will be chilly and Summer will be seriously hot. We can tell you in November it’s comfortable during the day but definitely begins to get cooler right after sunset. April, May, September and October are optimal months.

Best time of Day – This is up for debate. Some people will tell you morning, others afternoon. Some will say sunrise and others sunset. Firstly, be sure to fit Horseshoe Bend around your travel plans and secondly it depends on your goals. If it’s overcast or cloudy, you can visit any time of day without shadow concerns. Sunset is awesome and you can still take fantastic photographs post-sunset. It will certainly be quieter early in the day.

If you’re visiting Horseshoe Bend simply to enjoy the scenery, you don’t mind crowds, you’re partial to a nice sunset and you have no interest in photography or your selfie game – you’ll be perfectly happy arriving before sunset.

Where To Eat Near Horseshoe Bend

Whether you’re passing through or staying a night in Page, it’s the best place to fuel up in the immediate area.

We found many of the towns in between Grand Canyon and Moab to be short on food options and often there were unpredictable opening hours!

Here’s a roundup of the most highly rated restaurants in Page, AZ for you to try out:

    • Big John’s Texas BBQ – Barbecue | Tripadvisor
    • El Tapatio – Mexican, Southwest | Tripadvisor
    • Sunset 89 – American, Southwest | Menu
    • State 48 – Gastropub & Tavern | Menu

Where To Stay Near Horseshoe Bend

Unless you’re just stopping off for a few hours at Horseshoe Bend on the way to Grand Canyon or Moab for example, Page AZ is the obvious choice for accommodation.

There are several NPS, private and primitive campgrounds in Glen Canyon recreational area. Find more camping information here.

You’ll be pleased to hear there are a dozen or so highly rated hotels offering great rooms for exceptional value in Page. We’ve scoured all options and picked out the 3 best value for money hotels for you to consider.

Click any of the buttons below to check availability and prices for our highest recommended hotels.

1. Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel

Best Western is close to many of Page’s restaurants and its higher elevation is complimented by a first floor terrace featuring views over Glen Canyon Rim. Facilities include outdoor pool, hot tub, fitness center and breakfast is included.

All of that for under US$ 50 per night is a steal!

2. Country Inn & Suites by Radisson

One of the closest hotels to Horseshoe Bend is also one of the most highly rated in Page, AZ. Country Inn & Suites also features a fitness center but its pool and hot tub are indoors. Breakfast is included.

One of the best hotels in Page and still under US$ 75 per night!

3. Baymont by Wyndham Page Lake Powell

Baymont is located close to Glen Canyon Dam Overlook just a few minutes drive from the restaurants in town. This is the cheapest of our recommendations at under US$ 45 per night, but it still includes indoor pool and hot tub, plus breakfast.

Not too shabby for a budget option!

Horseshoe Bend Map

Click into the interactive map, zoom in / out and move around the area to find all recommended restaurants, hotels, points of interest, parking lot, trailhead and Horseshoe Bend overlook.

  • Purple – Hotel recommendations in Page, AZ
  • Light Red – Restaurant recommendations in Page, AZ
  • Blue – Horseshoe Bend hike trailhead
  • Maroon – Horseshoe Bend parking lot
  • Orange – All points interest

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We hope this helped you plan your visit to Horseshoe Bend Arizona!

Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? What time of day do you think is best for visiting?

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit in the comments below.

Don’t forget you can look at our itineraries and USA specific travel guides to help plan your next trip!

-Happy Travels-

Mark and Kristen at Horseshoe Bend sunset AZ

Valuable Resources For Your Next Trip

  • Booking Flights: Skyscanner is our preferred flights booking search engine, finding the best and cheapest flights has never been easier | Skyscanner
  • Booking Hotels: Booking consistently offers best prices around the world, along with a genius program and mobile discount | Booking
  • Travel Insurance: Never leave home without insurance, it’s not worth the risk. World Nomads is our preferred travel insurance provider | World Nomads
  • Destinations: Where in the world will you travel next? Find your dream vacations by map or country | Destinations
  • Packing & Gear: Need help packing for your next trip? Don’t leave home with these essential items | Travel Packing List
  • Planning a Trip: Planning a trip can be daunting, take the stress out of planning by breaking things down into manageable steps | Plan a Trip
  • Wellness: It is more important than ever to take care of your mind, body and soul when traveling short or long term | Travel Wellness
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